BRIAN SCIARETTA - Thursday, June 10, 2010
With just two days to go before the United States' highly anticipated World Cup opening match against England, Landon Donovan is eager to emerge as a leader for the American team in South Africa.
It was only four years ago when Donovan was hyped as a potential star for the World Cup in Germany only to see the attacking midfielder suffer mediocre performance as the US team crashed out of the tournament with one point in group play.
Following a successful four years since that debacle, Donovan feels as if he is far more of a mature player now and is ready to lead.
"I think in the past when I thought about leadership, it meant doing more things to help other people," stated Donovan. "I'm best leading when I'm focused on what I'm doing well. I think my energy and the way I play is a form of leadership on the field. Other guys feed off of that. I don't need to say things all the time. I'm certainly at my best when I'm focused on myself."
Based upon his play over the past four years, Donovan does appear to be in a better position. Entering into the 2006 World Cup, Donovan was coming off an unsuccessful stint at Bayern Leverkusen and was struggling with his confidence.
Entering into this tournament, Donovan is on the heels of leading the US to the finals of the 2009 Confederations Cup and more importantly, fresh off a successful loan to Everton during the MLS off-season where he even managed to earn Everton's player of the month for February.
"My experience at Everton was valuable in a lot of ways," Donovan recalled of the loan. "One for me personally, [was] furthermore getting the chance to play against some of the players that we'll see on Saturday. Also, having the ability to understand the way their league is, the way most teams play in their league. I think those are all beneficial to us."
Donovan, 28, is excited for the game on Saturday but also wary of the fact that it is just one game out of three the Americans will play in their group.
To meet their stated goal of advancing to the knockout round, a lot will depend on how they play in their second two games against Slovenia and Algeria.
Still, most of the attention will be placed on the opening game against the powerful English. The game has become widely anticipated among both regular American soccer fans and even casual followers of the sport.
"There's two parts to it. In the bigger picture, it's just one of the games," the Ontario, California native discussed. "We understand that. They are all equally important in that way. Aside from that the other part is knowing what this game means back home. For the past six months all we've seen is US-England. If you're a casual sports fan at home you might think this was the World Cup final, you wouldn't know any different. I understand that, I get that and I know there's importance."
Donovan and his US teammates are well aware of the challenges that will face them in two days. Since Fabio Capello was named head coach of the Three Lions following their failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships, England has emerged as one of the top teams in the world.
The Los Angelez Galaxy man is excited for the test ahead to both help the US team and avenge the bitter failure of four years ago.
"In my opinion England are one of the top teams in the world," Donovan concluded frankly. "With top teams, you don't have a lot of weaknesses. It would be hard for me to point anywhere and find weakness in their team. I'm excited for Saturday's game. There's still a lot to be determined as to where people are playing. I think we're all extremely excited for Saturday."